Box Office Beat: Weekend of January 11

Danny Baldwin's Box Office BeatHello and welcome back to Box Office Beat, the column in which I predict the upcoming weekend’s box office results. After coming within $100,000 of the estimate on “Texas Chainsaw 3D” last weekend, which surprised many by breaking $20m, I’m nearly feeling the impulse to quit while I’m ahead and not even bother with this week. I doubt I’ll be able to replicate that success, but with three four wide releases, I’ll have plenty of chances. This weekend’s also interesting because it’s the first after this morning’s Oscar nominations announcement, which has historically boosted the nominated films. Let’s crunch some numbers.

Zero Dark ThirtyOne such nominated film is Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which is expanding to 2,937 theaters after platforming over the past few weeks. Many prognosticators are comparing this to “Black Hawk Down,” which opened to an incredibly strong $28.6m in 3,101 theaters following a similar limited release pattern. I think this is an incredibly good comparison. Yes, “Black Hawk Down” played in more theaters and also had Martin Luther King Day to inflate its Sunday night gross, but these factors are cancelled out by 1) “Zero Dark Thirty” performing better in its platforming stage (it scored a similar per-theater-average to “Hawk” in 45 more locations) and 2) ticket-price inflation since 2002. If anything, I think “Zero Dark Thirty” could do even better than “Black Hawk Down” because it has the awards momentum going into the weekend; “Hawk” came out several weeks before nominations were announced that year. I’m going to take the movie’s title as a sign from God and predict a flat $30 million opening. It’s a great piece of filmmaking (my review will run within 24 hours) and a strong opening couldn’t be more well-deserved.

The ImpossibleAnother nominated film (Naomi Watts for Best Actress) expanding into a semi-wide release of 808 theaters is “The Impossible.” This highly emotional experience has played well with general audiences thus far, so it should have strong word-of-mouth going into the weekend. I don’t see its per theater average from last weekend ($4,817) falling off that much at all, despite the increase in nearly 300 theaters. In fact, it might not even drop, but I’ll play my prediction conservatively and go with $4,500. That puts the weekend total at $3.6 million, just outside of the top 10.

Gangster SquadAlso opening is “Gangster Squad,” which was delayed from last September, reportedly due to re-shoots necessitated by the Aurora, Colo. massacre. The release date swap may not help the film’s commercial prospects, because it seems like “Zero Dark Thirty” will be siphoning off a good portion of its predominantly male audience. WB couldn’t have anticipated this back when they made the switch, as “Thirty”’s release plan and potential level of success were unknown. Had “Gangster Squad” been dealt a better hand, perhaps it could have opened on the successful end of period crime dramas, similar to “Public Enemies”’s $25.3m. But I don’t see that happening, even with last year’s “Contraband” ($24.3m) proving that this is a good weekend for testosterone-fueled crime films. I see a more modest figure in the film’s future, in line with Oliver Stone’s “Savages” ($16.0m), especially given that mixed reviews could put off older, newspaper-reading audiences. I’ll go with $16.5 million.

A Haunted HouseLastly, there’s “A Haunted House,” the latest R-rated horror movie spoof written by and starring Marlon Wayans. It has zero competition in the “comedies targeted at young adults” department, so I think the film’s prospects are decent. A good starting point for a prediction would be the Wayanses last three comedies: “Dance Flick” ($10.6m), “Little Man” ($21.6m), and “White Chicks” ($19.7m). They average out to $17.3m. However, keep in mind that all of them were PG-13, which is much more inclusive of the Wayanses’ demographic. Thus, I think a 15 percent reduction in that average is needed for my “A Haunted House” prediction. That means $14.7 million.

My prediction of what the full top 10 will look like:

  1. “Zero Dark Thirty” … $30.0m  +1,112.7%
  2. “Gangster Squad” … $16.5m
  3. “Django Unchained” … $16.2m  -19.0%
  4. “A Haunted House” … $14.7m
  5. “Les Miserables” … $12.5m  -22.0%
  6. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” … $9.5m  -45.8%
  7. “Texas Chainsaw 3D” … $6.7m  -69.2%
  8. “Lincoln” … $6.5m  +20.1%
  9. “Parental Guidance” … $6.3m  -35.1%
  10. “The Silver Linings Playbook” … $5.4m  +49.3%